For two years now, Boris Yeltsin has held two jobs. From time to time, occasionally for days in a row, he has been president of Russia. The rest of the time he is a multiple-syndrome patient at Greater Moscow’s most exclusive health-care facilities. Despite growing pressure on him to devote full time to the latter occupation, he persists as president. His staff issues daily bulletins that he is “reviewing documents,” and every so often his televised image appears in a minute or so of videotape, sitting upright in a meeting.
Yeltsin’s absence from his Kremlin offices gives rise not only to political maneuvering but also to growing intrigue in the office of the presidency, normally hidden from view. The Kremlin “household affairs” directorate runs hundreds of businesses, including resorts, clinics, hotels, dachas and the “Rossiya” airline service, reserved for government officials. These properties for the most part belonged to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but were nationalized and handed over to the presidency in 1991. They are reportedly valued at billions of dollars. The whole operation is outside the federal budget–run like what in other countries might be called a slush fund. The household-affairs director says it is “profitable,” but former tax chief Boris Fedorov says it costs the public over a billion dollars a year.
The perks and pleasures available through the directorate are important political tools (don’t call them bribes!) for winning support from Duma deputies, regional leaders and influential private figures. There are also rumors that the directorate’s operations are commingled with the private affairs of the Yeltsin family. When President Yeltsin about ten days ago shuffled boxes on the organization chart to place household affairs under the presidential chief of staff, some saw the fine hand of Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, at work, protecting the directorate’s operations. Rumor has it that the directorate’s top official had grown too close to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, another politician with a reputation for putting the public, private and personal sectors into the fiscal blender and pushing “purée.”